Brave faces at Cairo's pro-Mursi vigil belie fear of rallies

Reuters News
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Posted: Jul 25, 2013 1:44 PM

By Shadia Nasralla

CAIRO (Reuters) - Supporters of ousted Egyptian president Mohamed Mursi camping on the streets of Cairo are stocking up with bandages and syringes ahead of mass rallies called by the army that deposed him. And mounting guard with barricades, helmets and sticks.

Since Mursi was toppled three weeks ago, more than 100 people, mainly supporters of his Muslim Brotherhood, have died in clashes between his supporters, his opponents and the security forces.

A call by army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi for Egyptians to flood the streets on Friday and give him a mandate to confront "violence and terrorism" has raised the specter of a wider crackdown on Mursi's Islamist backers.

"I expect a new massacre," said Sarah Ahmad, sitting amid syringes and neatly stacked medical supplies outside the Rabaa Adawiya mosque, where supporters of Mursi began holding a tent vigil a month ago in the run-up to his overthrow.

Backers of the Brotherhood have marched daily ever since he was shunted from power, and Ahmad has been tending to minor injuries sustained during the resulting clashes. On July 8, more than 50 people died when security forces fired on them outside the Republican Guard compound.

The Brotherhood has called counter-rallies for Friday, raising the risk of more clashes.

The 24-year-old medical student from the Nile delta spoke confidently, but her worried eyes and gesticulating hands sent a different message.

"WE ARE PREPARED"

"For the situation to reach the point where (Sisi) tries to get people to come out to give him cover so he can commit more butchery shows that his position is weak, that he has lost the support of the street," she said.

Pointing to the medical supplies around her, she added: "I'm optimistic. God willing, we are prepared for tomorrow."

Guards armed with wooden sticks and wearing baseball helmets and construction hard-hats were stationed at the main entrances to the camp, fortified by metal barriers and sandbags.

The protesters cling to the word "legitimacy" - the legitimacy of a democratically elected president removed from office and held incommunicado in army detention after barely a year in office.

The word is written on posters all over the camp, and echoes in sermons and speeches blaring out over the tents on loudspeakers. It was also a staple of Mursi's speeches in the weeks before he was toppled on the back of enormous popular protests against his rule.

The Rabaa tent city, which has blocked two normally buzzing streets for over a month to the irritation of local residents and businesses, thins out on workdays but swells in the evenings and on the Friday-Saturday weekends, when many return from work or come in from the provinces.

"OUR FEAR IS POSITIVE"

In a communal kitchen, Gamal Abdel Hussein was on cooking duty, pearls of sweat rolling down his forehead in stuffy summer heat made worse by several large pots of boiling water.

"If somebody attacks you, what do you do? At the very least, you defend yourself," he said. "We are in a period of defense, not attack."

Posters in the camp describe Sisi as "Made in America, dressed in an Egyptian suit", reflecting one of a myriad of conspiracy theories over the meddling hand of Washington in Egyptian affairs. Another depicts him as Mickey Mouse.

"(Sisi) wants to push the country into civil war," said Salah Madani, from Egypt's second city of Alexandria, as he erected a tent for newcomers with the help of concrete blocks and bits of wood.

Madani forecast a big turnout of Brotherhood supporters on Friday.

"I expect the great majority of the Egyptian people will be in the streets tomorrow ... He (Sisi) kidnapped power and the people don't agree," he said.

"The Egyptian people are stubborn ... The more blood there is, the bigger the crowds get that reject this bloody coup."

Ayman El-Shenawy, deputy headmaster at a Cairo school, said he also expected an unprecedented show of support for Mursi.

"I can't tell you I'm not scared," he said.

"I'm scared for my children and myself. But for fear to stop me? No ... God willing, our fear is positive fear that will drive us forward."

(Reporting By Shadia Nasralla; Editing by Matt Robinson and Kevin Liffey)